I haven’t had a chance to blog in a while and not to make any excuses but I am at the Rackspace Cloud now and they don’t mess around when it comes to working!
It’s been about a month into my new role at the Rackspace Cloud and I am loving every minute of it. I am on such an awesome team and I will introduce them in my next post.
I was a Rackspace employee back in 2003 when it was only around 100 employees and now its over 2500! You can imagine a company changes as it grows but one thing is for sure, the core values and vision of Rackspace have not changed. Rackspace makes all new employees attend orientation called “Rookie O” which didn’t exist when I was there previously. Even though I was a former Racker and have already been at the Cloud for a month, it was mandatory I attend as part of the SAS70 requirement.
So last week I attended Rookie O led by Larry Reyes aka “Sugarbear” (explanation coming later). It was 4 full days! Yes, they were long days sitting at a table for 7 hours, however, there were definitely some very enlightening segments to the orientation which I’d like to share with you.
Sugarbear schedules representatives from each department to come and speak about what they do. He also sets it up as a storyboard so for example our first speakers were the founders of Rackspace.
There were 80 new hires at this orientation. Over half of the group were customer facing employees – you know Rackspace isn’t messing around when it comes to Fanatical service. Further, over a fourth the employees were being hired into the Cloud division – so you know we are growing!
I was assigned to a table of 6 Rackers, all from various parts of the company. At our table were our name tags that also listed our top 5 strengths from the Clifton Strengths Finder test that Rackspace requires all new employees to take. We were a team and were going to have score points over the next 4 days by asking questions, participating in games and decorating our table as a theme.
I won’t highlight everything but I would like to comment on some of the segments I found to be enlightening.
Founders, Dirk Elmendorf and Pat Condon
I have worked with Dirk at ServerBeach long time ago. I knew the Rackspace story but man it was good to hear it again! Pat Condon, Dirk Elmendorf and Richard Yoo were Trinity students with an entrepreneurial spirit and didn’t want to work for “The Man.” They did technical things for clients and realized that the most important part to people’s businesses was making sure their website was online. They began hosting out of their apartment and as they grew, they saw that if they wanted to expand their business, they would need investors. This is where Graham Weston came into the picture. When they proposed the idea to Graham and Morris Miller at Chester’s Hamburgers, Graham said “I get it! It’s like an apartment complex with never ending apartments!” Dirk said “Wow, this is why I am not the business guy, just a geek.”
Dirk and Pat still live and breathe Rackspace. Dirk says “Technology will continue to change but we will continue to chase the technology we can help people with.” And what he has learned is “We make money doing what’s right.”
I really appreciated Dirk and Pat’s genuine and real speech. Dirk was from Indiana and Pat was from California but they knew San Antonio should be the home for Rackspace. Of course, we are happy they stayed.
Chairman and former CEO, Graham Weston
Graham is the most humble and down to earth person you will ever meet. I actually briefly worked for Graham back in 2003 and I can tell a couple of stories that describes Graham. I was finishing up college and was hired on as an intern to help with Graham’s office stuff. He had two assistants, Mona, who managed all his real estate stuff and Sheryl, who managed his Rackspace stuff. Graham really didn’t know me yet because I worked weird hours. I worked right outside his office door. Graham saved everything! Even if it was an idea on a napkin, it was filed away – and he had lots of ideas! I believe it was the 2nd week I started, both Mona and Sheryl were out. While they were out, Graham came in one day with 2 boat propellers. He sat them on the desk and said “Hi, I am Graham and you must be Angela. Listen, these propellers are broken and was wondering if you could get them fixed.” Then I think his phone went off and he was gone. I was there with 2 boat propellers that I had to figure how to get fixed! Another time, Graham asked me to move his car so some employees could load some old computers into it. He gave me the keys to his SUV and he hardly knew me. This was Graham, trustworthy!
In his speech, he spoke about the importance of discovering your strengths and using them to your benefit. Rather than focusing on improving your weakness, he wants Rackers to focus on their strengths. He knows organization is one of his weaknesses and instead of wasting time to learn how to get organized when he knows he’ll never be good at it, he just utilizes tools that will help him such as his BlackBerry! We touched on a couple of strengths and one thing I found to be hilarious is that he asked for all those who had Achiever as one of their strengths to raise their hand (me being one of them) . He then asked “Do you keep a To Do list and write down things you have already completed just to say they are completed?” Ha, we all kept our hands raised! Wow, I can’t believe I do that!
I really enjoyed Graham’s speech. I think it’s important to understand why Rackspace asks us to the take the Strengths test. They want to genuinely help employees with their personal development because they know that happy employees makes for happy customers and essentially makes for good business.
President of Rackspace, Lanham Napier
Lanham came into the room and personally introduced himself to each Racker in the room. I never worked with Lanham so I was surprised he even remembered me. When it was Lanham’s turn to speak, he just said ” I am really tired of slides so I am just going to sit up here and talk about what Rackspace is up to.” He was sincere, transparent and real and offered to answer questions. With a company with even 100+ employees, it is very rare that you will ever have the opportunity to engage in discussion with your president. He really laid out the vision of Rackspace and where we are headed. I was instantly motivated! One thing for sure is that Lanham’s dream is to create jobs for people. He wants every employee in the room to be able to put Rackspace on their resume and be automatically labeled a winner. He says “Finance is just a tool to do the job; how many jobs we create is really the success metric.”
He says the number 1 thing Rackspace looks for in employees is expertise, “We have to be smarter than our customers so we can solve their problems before they even know about it.” He also notes that the perception of operational efficiency means more people in the back office and less in customer facing roles. He says that is not the case at Rackspace. It’s about bigger DC’s, systems integration and happy customers. Rackspace wants to put more people in customer facing roles.
Consider me very impressed!
GM of The Rackspace Cloud, Emil Sayegh and Founders, Jonathan Bryce and Todd Morey
These were 2 separate presentations but I’d like to comment on Cloud at Rackspace. Here is what I find to be really neat about Rackspace. Todd and Jonathan, 2 developers working at Rackspace, had an idea about providing a different way of hosting. They proposed their idea to Rackspace and Rackspace actually allowed them to set a team aside and work on it. Cloud hosting really wasn’t the term at the time but the technology behind it was essentially what is being called Cloud today. Rackspace could have easily said “No, we want to perfect managed hosting services only.” But they were willing to take a risk and change as technology changed. Too often too many companies do very well at what they do while the world around them is changing and what they are working on might not even apply in the new changed world. I really admire Rackspace for taking risk.
Sugarbear presents the Core Values
First, who the heck is Sugarbear? Sugarbear is a long term Racker of 10 years! He is the perfect person to be leading Rookie O. His name is Larry Reyes and he is a good salsa dancer. He had a friend whose godmother was Farrah Fawcett. When his friend had his wedding, who showed up but Farrah. Turns out that Larry had the opportunity to dance with her and from that, he got a nice photo of them together. That photo sat on his desk at the office. One day, Lanham was walking by and noticed the photo. He looked at Larry and said “Well aren’t you the Sugarbear” and the name has stuck since.
He went over the Rackspace core values:
- Fanatical Support in all we do. Create customer experiences that generate recommendations.
- Results first: substance over flash.
- Embrace change for excellence.
- Passion for our work.
- Keep our Promises. Bad news first. Full disclosure. No surprises.
- Treat fellow Rackers like Friends & Family. (Sugarbear’s favorite)
These values serve as a foundation so when you are faced with making a decision, it’s easier for you to know what the right thing to do is. I am not too sure how a company can survive without core values.
Overall, Rookie O was awesome! Our team didn’t win but we didn’t lose either. We named our team “Rack in the Day” and decorated our table like a college student’s apartment trying to host servers.
My entire career has been in this industry so I don’t know what it’s like to come from a mega corporate environment. But there was one person that did comment on Rookie O and she came from various jobs from all sorts of companies, she said – “This has been the best employee orientation I have ever been to. At least you didn’t hand out an outdated video with your CEO wearing a business suit talking to you about the mission statement of the company.”